If, as the Gospel according to Mark declares in light of the arrival of the one who “will baptize with the Holy Spirit” and thus fufll the words of the prophets (1:8), “the time is fulfilled, the Kingdom is at hand” (1:15), this declaration becomes the basis by which we encounter the ensuing invitation of Jesus to “follow me” in the way of this new Kingdom being established in our midst. What’s striking about how this movement towards the Kingdom enfolds into a call for the “participation” of the people is precisely how Mark already imagines and frames this kingdom vision within the opening verses of his Gospel account.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”Mark 1:1
This word “beginning” becomes even more pronounced in the Gospel according to John, where it fleshes out the phrase “In the beginning was the Word.” (John 1:1). Or in the Gospel according to Matthew where the opening geneology places Jesus both at the beginning and at the end of this family lineage, forming a working reference often recognized by scholars to Matthew’s vision of a new Pentateuch being established around Jesus as the embodiment of “the Word”, similar to what we find in Luke’s geneology which ends with Jesus as a “new Adam”, echoed in Matthews vision of a new Moses and a new Temple.
All of this points to this idea of the new creation. This is the beginning point of this Gospel vision found in Mark. The vision of a new creation story shaped not by the violence that permeates the nation building of Genesis, but on the self serving, self giving love of Jesus who is seen as the fufillment of the covenant promise God established with a created order given to perpetual disorder.
And what was this covenant promise? It is a promise anchored in the source of life itself, guarded by a flaming sword as the whole of humanity is driven “eastward”, that perpetual symbol of exile that emerges over and over again throughout the scriptural narrative. It is a promise that breathes through the creation and eventual decreation narrative of the flood, a covenant that speaks to the promise to restore not to destroy, standing as the very antithesis of the violence that builds the nations of the world through thes story of Cain and Abel and once again through the sons of Noah.
The promise of a Kingdom built on love.
This is the same covenant that is shaped by the promise to Abraham through which “all the families of the earth shall be blessed”, the same covenant established with Moses and the people of God raised up to be participants in this new Kingdom building as a light on the mountain shining the truth of this love to all the earth.
This is the promise of the new creation.
I am reminded of the most recent series by The Bible Poject called The Family of God. The series tracks this covenant promise, this new creation vision, as the bringing together of the family of God. This is what lies at the heart of the Biblical narrative- the healing of the division that happened in Cain and Abel. The establishing of life giving peace on earth rather than death wielding violence. The series refers to the Biblical story as one long standing “sibling rivalry”, with all of the nations that stand in contest with later Irael emerging as the picture of a divided family rooted back to the story of Cain and Abel and Noah and his sons. In its vision for the new humanity, the very heart of the Isaiah proclamation that follows Mark’s new “beginning” in 1:2-3, estalishing “the way of the Lord”, Isaiah 60:5-6 gives us the context for the magi and the gifts who surround the birth narrative absent in Mark’s Gospel but neverheless entirely present in its understanding of Jesus as the revealing of God’s self to a world in exile:
“Then you will see and be radiant, and your heart will thrill and rejoice; because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you. The wealth of the nations will come to you. A multititude of camels will cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba will come. They will bring gold and frankincense, and will bear good news of the praises of the Lord.”Isaiah 60:5-6
The Bible Project people describe this Kingdom vision as “the nations streaming to the place where heaven and earth are unified.” N.T. Wright, who has done a lot of work on the topic of the new creation, imagines a vision presented in the pages of scripture not of “escaping this wicked world and going to heaven”, but of heaven being brought down to earth where rewnewal can then take place. This is what allows him to say in his article, “The Road to New Creation”, “God will make new heavens and new earth, and give us new bodies to live and work and take delight in his new creation. The good news of the Christian gospel (then) is that this new world, this new creation, has already begun.” And as becomes clear in the Biblical narrative, the primary vision of this new creation is bringing back together a divided people. The divided creation once again being made whole. The family of God.
The great truth that Wright goes on to posit in much of his work echos this great vision in the opening chapter of Mark. As it reads following Jesus’ baptism, a myserious act that seems to hold this grand proclamation of new creation in its grip,
“And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being “shaken” and the Spirit descending on Him like a dove.”Mark 1:10-11
This is the bringing down of Heaven to earth, the Kingdom being known on earth as it is in Heaven. The shaking of heavens that brings down the goodness of God in the fullness of the person of Christ. And as God looks on this moment we hear the words, “With you I am well pleased.” Make no mistake, these words are intended to bring us all the way back to God’s good creation imagined in the pages of the Genesis. As the full revelation of God’s vision for this world, the fulfillment of this covenant promise, God’s dwelling with and amidst this creation, the swords guarding the source of life have opened up and made itself known in this very moment. New creation. Recreation. This is the grand statement that follows the deconstruction process represented within the Biblical narrative of Israel. This is the fully constituted reconstruction process. In the image of God taking the form of humankind, which in Genesis is made in the very image of God’s self, we are awoken to our great vocation as the image bearers of God within the whole of this good creation. The inference of Christ as “the way” offers us the clarity of vision for this vocation to then bring and bear this good news to a broken and hurting world.
The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom is at hand (1:15). As we follow along the way, what will open up for as readers of the Gospel according to Matthew at the foot of the Cross and this grand witness to the promised Resurrection that becomes Mark’s startling and concice proclomation point “He is Risen”, a statment left to the mystery of the now unfolding new creation story, is the idea that the same spirit decended on Christ in the baptism narrative of Mark 1 decends on us as the people of God made participants and empowered within this grand vocation of a people for the world.
There is a curious aspect to this vocational vision within Mark 1 as we come to the final verses and the story of the healed leper. As the leper is healed Jesus tells him “to say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the Priest and offer yourself for your cleansing what Moses comanded, for a proof to them.” (Mark 1:44). The man doesn’t listen and instead goes and tells everyone about what Jesus has done in his life. What’s important to note here is the immediate interruption this has in terms of what Jesus came to do. In verse 1:35 we see Jesus going to the “desolate place” to pray, and when his disciples “seek him out” because of the crowd of people trying to track him down in need of their own healing, Jesus says that they should go to the “next towns” because that is what he came to do. (1:38). Following the man’s healing in Mark 1:44, Jesus is now forced to return to the desolate place as He “could not longer openly enter a town.” (1:45). This interupts the mission that is said to begin in Jerusalem (tell the Priest) and moves to the ends of the earth, the essential story of the book of Acts.
This is the new creation vision. It is a vision without borders. It is a vision that sets this grand contest between the demons and the spirit of God, death and life, division and unity, violence and love within the ministry of Christ. It is a vision that imagines us as Kingdom participants, image bearers of Christ, doing the work of the spirit as we continue on the way to seeing God’s Kingdom pronounced. The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom is at hand, two phrases that accompany Jesus’ arrival as a way to say, the new creation is now, so get to work imagining it in the work that you do today and in the life you live now for the sake if this unifying, love defining, heaven shaking work.
With this in view, I am reminded of the words of Wright’s further words in his wonderful article “The Road to New Creation”.
“The work you do declares, more powerfully than mere words can do, that there is a different way to be human, a way which shows up selfish individualism for what it is, a way which answers brilliantly our current questions about childhood and education, a way which declares, in the face of all the postmodern cynicism and deconstruction, that there is such a thing as self-giving love, and it’s glorious and it works. What you do, and what you are, stands as a sign of contradiction to the follies of our world, because it stands as a signpost pointing along the pilgrim way, the holy way, the highway to Zion, the road along which you travel looking for those in need of healing and hope: the road, in fact, to God’s new creation.”N.T. Wright (The Road to New Creationi